Standing inside the lone convenience store near my school, I shift my weight from my right foot to my left, then back to my right. I juggle the items in my hands – a carton of milk, a bag of vegetable chips, and a chocolate bar – and check my watch for the twentieth time. The line in front of me isn’t becoming any less long, and I’m starting to feel nervous. If I miss my train… well, it wouldn’t be good, I’ll just put it that way. My mother would have a fit.
I fidget for a while and look aimlessly out the store window. Two school-age girls, an elderly man, and a small boy get in the line behind me. We inch forward like a caterpillar. After a few minutes, one of the girls puts the things she wanted to buy back onto the shelves and leaves the store in a hurry. I wonder if she’s trying to catch the train, just like me.
To my relief, a second employee soon comes out of the back room and takes up a position at another cash register. Now the line starts moving, and before long I’m pushing my way out the door, stuffing my groceries into my backpack. I make a panicked run for the station. And when I get there, it turns out that the train hasn’t even arrived yet! Just my luck. I mean, I’m certainly lucky, but I’m also not, if you know what I mean. All the time I spent worrying, all the energy I spent running… This kind of thing annoys me. If I’m late, let me be late, you know?
Just as I thought, the girl from the convenience store is at the station too. She’s standing near an empty bench but not sitting on it. I sit at a different bench, a little farther away, and glance at her curiously. Her hair, dyed a light blonde, comes down to an inch or two below her shoulders, and she’s wearing a nice dark blue button-up shirt and shorts. She looks calm and collected, professional, I guess – like she’s got a handle on herself that most people our age don’t have. She’s lowered her backpack to her feet, and she just stands there, gazing at the train tracks, waiting patiently. She’s pretty attractive to me, so I can’t help but look over at her once in a while. I wonder if she goes to my school.
The minutes tick by. I start to imagine what must have happened to the train: it derailed, it hit someone on the tracks, a passenger died, the driver had a heart attack… the list goes on. It’s incredibly rare for the train to be late, and I mean rare as in “never happened once in my life.” But none of my fantasies seem to match up with reality. The train smoothly pulls up to the station ten minutes behind schedule, and all the people waiting get on board, myself and the girl included.
This route is heading out of the city, in a somewhat unusual direction, so the train isn’t crowded. I crash in a window seat, and the girl sits in my same row but on the other side. I take out my milk, open the carton, and take a few careful sips as we pull out of the station. I know some people get disgusted at drinking milk straight from the carton, but I could never understand why. It’s not dirty, and besides, not using a cup saves water. I satisfy my thirst and put the milk back into my backpack.
The ride will take forty minutes. I realize I should text my mother to tell her that the train was late, so I pull out my phone and craft a heavily apologetic message. Just as I’m about to send it, my battery dies. I curse in my head, put my phone away, and imagine the beating I’m going to get once I arrive home.
Well, just imagining won’t do anything, right? Looking for something to distract myself, I take out a book from my backpack that I’d just borrowed at the school library the day before, and I settle in and start to read. Outside my window, the city edge zips by in incoherent flashes. The train hums along, steady and soothing. I lose myself in the book quite happily.
Some twenty minutes later, as I’m busily turning pages, I hear the girl across from me take a phone call. In the back of my mind I make a sharp retort – people who take calls on the train irritate me – but I can’t really get mad at her. I finish a chapter of my book and start another one, and all the while the girl speaks softly in the background.
And then, it happens. I’m still lost in my book, but in the corner of my eye I see the girl swiftly opening her backpack. She takes out a notepad and a pen, and starts scribbling something on it very urgently – she’s left-handed, I notice – while simultaneously maintaining her phone conversation. Then she stands, crosses the aisle, and waves the notepad at me.
I lower my book and look at her, startled. I hadn’t been listening to her at all, but now I hear her saying into her phone over and over again, “It’s okay, you’re alright, just keep talking to me, talk to me, let’s talk.” She waves the notepad at me again, her eyes wide, fierce, and frightened all at once. I look at what she’d written on it.
call the police my friend is going to kill herself
I drop my book immediately and stand up, feeling anxiety and fear starting to rise in my stomach. What? My phone is dead, I can’t, and besides what would I say… The girl waves the note in my face again, bold and insistent and terrified. I nod at her and look around. There’s one other person in our car, a middle-aged woman listening to music through her headphones. Motioning the girl out of the aisle, I take her notepad, go over to the woman, and tap her on the shoulder.
The woman looks at me, annoyed, and pulls out her headphones. “What?” she asks. Her voice is really deep, and it rattles my anxiety even more. I shake out of it.
“Please, I need your phone, it’s an emergency,” I say, showing her the notepad. I gesture at the girl behind me, still talking to her friend in desperate but calm-coated tones. “I’ll give it right back, I promise, I just need to make this call, my phone is dead…”
The woman doesn’t say another word. She hands me her phone immediately, and I thank her. I head back towards the girl while dialing the police.
A female dispatcher answers after two rings. “Hello, what’s your emergency?”
“This girl on my train is on a call with her friend who she says is about to commit suicide,” I blurt out.
“What is this friend’s name?” the dispatcher asks.
“What’s her name?” I hiss across the aisle.
The girl scribbles it on the notepad, and I read it aloud.
“Okay, and where is she?”
“Where is she?” I whisper.
The girl starts to write down an address, slowly, struggling to remember. The whole time she’s still saying into her phone, “Yes. Uh-huh. Tell me more, love. Keep talking with me.”
She finishes writing, looks over it a little skeptically, adds a question mark, and extends a hand to show it to me. I start reading it to the dispatcher: “Seven, two, four …”
In that instant our train driver slams on the brakes with a screeching wail. Before I know it we’re flying through the air, frail human bodies rising on clouds of sparks and flame, sprays of shattered glass and cell phones, and the last thing I see is the girl’s notepad, held by no one, written on for nothing, and I close my eyes.